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Random Thoughts: Patriots at Packers - Red zone work not enough

The Patriots seven-game winning streak came to an end at Lambeau Field despite some strong work in the red zone on defense.

The Patriots came up short in Green Bay, bringing a halt to the Patriots seven-game winning streak. Here are some random thoughts from the Packers 26-21 victory at Lambeau Field:

Seeing red – The Patriots managed to remain in the game thanks to some tremendous work in the red zone by the defense. The Packers had four trips inside the Patriots 20 and were forced to kick field goals each time. Dont'a Hightower came up with a huge sack to stop one drive and the secondary was locked in on several potential scoring plays to stymie others. Green Bay also contributed to its own problems when Davante Adams dropped a sure touchdown on a third-down slant from the 15. The field goals allowed the Patriots a chance to steal a game they were otherwise thoroughly outplayed in, and once again proved the age old adage of football math where seven beats three – only the Packers managed to survive.


The New England Patriots take on the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Sunday, November 30, 2014.

Kicking himself –It's not often that Bill Belichick's coaching acumen is called into question but it's fair to wonder about some of the decisions the Patriots coach made at Lambeau Field. The key play came with less than three minutes to go when the Patriots faced fourth-and-18 from the Green Bay 29 trailing 26-21. After going for it on fourth-and-three from his own territory several minutes earlier, Belichick this time chose to have Stephen Gostkowski boot a 47-yard field goal that would have created a situation in which another field goal would have won it. But his defense hadn't really stoppedAaron Rodgers** & Co. all afternoon, a fact he seemed to acknowledge by going for the first fourth down. The decision looked even worse when Gostkowski uncharacteristically pushed the kick wide to the right, allowing the Packers to grind out one final first down with the benefit of good field position at their 37.

Kicking himself II – The Patriots opened with Darrelle Revis onRandall Cobb and Brandon Browner opposite Jordy Nelson. That combo seemed to be faring well but Belichick opted to change things up at times, and Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy also tossed in some wrinkles that caught New England off guard. McCarthy lined up Cobb in the backfield early and handed the ball to the wideout. Later he did so again and successfully got Cobb matched up against Rob Ninkovich. Cobb beat Ninkovich on a wheel route that picked up 33 yards. Nelson later turned in arguably the biggest play of the game late in the first half when he beat Revis on a slant for a 45-yard touchdown.

Ryan struggles -- Belichick opted to use Logan Ryan as his third cornerback in place of Kyle Arrington, who had been outstanding in that role recently. Ryan was tasked with covering the rookie Adams and things did not go well early. Adams broke free of Ryan's coverage on two occasions on the first two possessions but Rodgers was unable to make the connection. That changed on the Packers next drive when Adams torched Ryan for 45 yards down the sideline, and he wound up catching three balls for 90 yards before Belichick went back Arrington in the second quarter. In the second half Alfonzo Dennard saw time against Adams and similarly struggled. By the time the afternoon was through Adams had six catches for 121 yards.

Cannon fodder – Marcus Cannon got some reps as an extra offensive lineman and he did not make too much out of them in the first half. Clay Matthews beat him off the edge and affected a Tom Brady pass in the second quarter, and he later allowed another pressure working on the right side. Late in the first half with the Patriots knocking on the door at the Packers 2, Cannon committed a false start penalty to create a first-and-goal at the 7. The Patriots eventually picked up the touchdown on a Brady-to-Brandon LaFell pass but Cannon's sloppiness could have been costly.

Old issues – I know I've mentioned this a couple of times this season but the hurry-up-and-fail rushing attack needs to be put on ice. Once again the Patriots tried to catch the defense off guard by rushing out of the huddle and snapping the ball quickly on third-and-two on the opening series. LeGarrette Blount was stuffed in the backfield, and to make matters worse the Patriots were quite set when the ball was snapped, creating an illegal shift penalty. The results have not been anywhere near good and it's time for Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to find another way.


Blount takes the lead –** Last week Jonas Gray stood on the sideline and didn't receive a single snap. Instead, Blount filled the role of the lead back and carried 12 times for 78 yards with a pair of touchdowns. Many believed Gray was being disciplined after showing up late for practice during the week leading up to the Lions game and that was the reason he didn't play. But it was Blount once again getting the bulk of the work while Gray was largely a spectator. Blount finished with 58 yards on 10 carries while Gray was limited to a single carry for 4 yards. At this point it doesn't look like Gray's inactivity has to do with anything more than the simple fact that Belichick feels Blount is the better option.

Punting problems – Ninkovich did a great job filling in for Danny Aiken, as the long snapper sat out due to a concussion, but perhaps the change affected Ryan Allen. Although all of Ninkovich's snaps were on target, Allen struggled throughout, averaging 37 yards on his four punts. Allen's kicks all appeared to be mishit and even though two were downed inside the 20 that was due to the fact that they failed to reach Packers punt returner Micah Hyde. Allen's last punt of the evening went for just 34 yards, and even though it didn't turn out to be a huge part of the game it wasn't one of his better overall efforts.

Extra points – The Patriots scored in the final two minutes of the first half for the 10th time in 12 games when LaFell caught a touchdown pass with1:09 left. … The loss was the Patriots first against an NFC North team in 15 games. The Packers were also the last team from that division to beat New England when they took a 28-10 decision at Gillette Stadium in 2002. … Hightower's second-quarter sack gave him 4.5 for the season and established a career high. … LaFell finished with five catches for 38 yards and two touchdowns and has now established career highs in all three categories. Through 12 weeks LaFell now has 53 receptions for 712 yards and seven touchdowns. 

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